Founders and Foundational Vision
One hundred and sixty years ago, President Abraham Lincoln spoke of the dream to restore the Jews to their national home, as one shared by many Americans. The inscription on Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell articulates the Hebrew Bible’s code of ethics: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” This verse from Leviticus, shining through the crack of the Liberty Bell, underscores the principles that fuel the American dream. These words have bound our nations through the ages. Coming together today, in this chamber of liberty and freedom, we are all realizing the hopes of our founding fathers and mothers. We are so very proud of the true friendship we have forged.
It is rooted deep in our respective declarations of independence. In the American Declaration of Independence, the founders appealed to the “Supreme Judge of the World.” In the Israeli Declaration of Independence, influenced by America’s, our founders placed their trust in “the Rock of Israel.”
FULL TEXT: Israeli President Isaac Herzog's Address to Congress, The full transcript of Herzog's speech to U.S. lawmakers, Jul;y 19, 2023
Israel was supposed to have a constitution. This was specifically stipulated in United Nations resolution 181, and in Israel’s Declaration of Independence it was said that it would establish a democratic constitution, explained Yaniv Roznai, codirector of Reichman University’s Rubinstein Center for Constitutional Challenges.
“This was the original plan, and indeed elections for a constitutional assembly took place in January 1949. However, the constitutional assembly, once it was assembled, received the authority not only to draft the constitution but also to be the ordinary legislator, to enact ordinary laws,” Roznai said. “Because this was the democratically elected body at the time and it started debating the constitution matter, no one doubted the fact that it has the authority to enact the constitution.”
The Knesset declined to act on its constitutive authority for several reasons, said Dr. Guy Lurie, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. One argument was that “most of the Jewish people are not here yet,” said Lurie. “We’re establishing a constitution without all of the constituency being involved in this constitution.”
“Some people, like [Israeli founding father David] Ben-Gurion, objected to the idea of a constitution because they feared that if you would have now to sit and debate all the contentious issues regarding the nature of the state, this would cause great division among the people at a time when the nation must be united against different forces,” said Roznai.
Concerns about disunity in particular centered on the religious and secular cleavage, said Lurie. Religious parties argued that the Jewish people already has a constitution, the Torah.
Internal unity was needed in the face of existential external threats – Israel was born into the War of Independence, and for decades had many enemies seeking the state’s destruction.
George Mason University Law School Prof. Eugene Kontorovich noted that political self-interest played a major part in Ben-Gurion’s reasoning as well.
“He didn’t see any need to restrain his government,” said Kontorovich. “Remember, [Ben-Gurion’s party] Mapai held power for 40 years.” A constitution would introduce major restrictions to his own power.
Roznai summarized, “So there it was, a mixture of procedural and substantive arguments; and because they could not have reached an agreement in 1950, they simply decided not to decide.”
Why doesn't Israel have a constitution? By MICHAEL STARR, Published: FEBRUARY 2023, The Jerusalme Post
See also: Basic Laws of Israel, Wikipedia